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Harrington leads stars to Thailand Open

Paul McGinleyBANGKOK, Feb 8 - Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington from Ireland and Englishman Chris Wood, the defending champion, will light up the fairways at OneAsia's U.S. $1 million Thailand Open next month.

Ireland’s Paul McGinley, recently announced as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for 2014, will also be returning for a second appearance, while joining the impressive line up are Japanese legend Shingo Katayama and Kim Kyung-tae -- the rising star of Korean golf.

With the Singha Corporation on board as premier sponsor, the prestigious event will return to Thana City Golf & Sport Club for the first time since 1998, with local fans hoping a home-grown player can win the national title for the first time in nearly a decade.

The March 14 to 17 tournament is the opening event of the OneAsia season, and in a landmark development is joint-sanctioned with the Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO) for the first time.

“There is no question that this year’s Thailand Open features one of its strongest-ever fields,"  said Rungsrid Luxitanonda on behalf of the Thailand Golf Association (TGA) and Singha Corporation.

"This will be the first time Padraig Harrington will play in our national Open and we are thrilled that he has taken time out of his busy schedule to join our event.

“Our national Open has made remarkable progress since it returned to the golf calendar in 2009 after a brief hiatus. The tournament has re-emerged as one of the region’s premier national Opens -- particularly with it now being joint sanctioned with the JGTO."

Singha's sponsorship of many of the country’s professionals has been one of the main reasons why Thai players have been able to perform so well on the international stage, and their support of golf tournaments at all levels has been unrivalled.

“Singha Corporation are delighted to be involved with the Thailand Open once again this year," said Rungsrid. "We are renowned for our strong support of golf in Thailand and so to be able to be premier sponsor of our national Open gives us a sense of completion.”

Also providing a solid sponsorship platform this year as co-sponsors are Emirates, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, D’ablo and Canon.

Padraig HarringtonStar attraction Harrington won the Open Championship in 2007 to become the first Irishman to win the event in 60 years -- and the first from the Republic of Ireland.

A year later Harrington successfully defended his title to become the first European golfer since James Braid in 1906 to retain the Claret Jug, and then just three weeks later he won the  U.S. PGA Championship.

His friend McGinley is a four-time winner on the European Tour but best known for his heroics in the Ryder Cup. He played in winning Ryder Cup teams in 2002, 2004 and 2006, and in 2014 will become the first Irishman to captain the side.

The affable Irishman played in the Thailand Open last year, watching a brilliant win by 25-year-old Wood.

Wood’s two-shot triumph at Suwan Golf and Country Club was the first of his career, and he said at the time it would give him the confidence to win more.

Sure enough, he broke through with his first title on the European Tour last month at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, eagling the par-five 18th to beat Spaniard Sergio Garcia and South African George Coetzee.

An exciting talent, he first rose to prominence when he finished fifth in the 2008 Open Championship as an amateur and then third at Turnberry a year later.

Thana City Golf & Sport Club will be a fine venue for players of this calibre and a tournament of this stature.

It is conveniently located just 25 minutes from downtown Bangkok and boasts an 18 hole golf course designed by Greg Norman. It was built in 1993.

“Thana City Golf & Sport Club are proud to be hosting the Thailand Open for the third time,” said Mr. Kavin Kanjanapas, Executive Director, BTS Group Holdings Plc (Owner of Thana City).

“Thana City delivers a value based, high quality golfing experience focusing on consistent pace of play, high quality course conditioning and friendly guest services.”

In addition to the golf course, facilities include a luxurious clubhouse, comprehensive sports facility, a world class driving range, practice facilities and a golf academy that is recognized throughout the region as one of Thailand’s best golf training centres.

The venue has been popular with world class international events. It has played host to several prestigious professional tournaments including the 1993 Thailand Open, the 1994 and 1995 Kosaido Thailand Ladies Open and hosted the final round of the Johnnie Walker Super Tour in 1996 which was won by Ernie Els.

The Thailand Open, first played in 1965, is an annual golfing tradition with some well known names inscribed on the trophy such as Australians David Graham (1970) and Graham Marsh (1973), and Taiwanese golfers Hsieh Min-nan (1972) and Chen Tze-ming (1983 and 1986).

Unquestionably the most popular winner of the event is Thailand’s Boonchu Ruangkit, who took top honours in 1992 and 2004.

However, he wasn’t the first home player to lift the trophy - that memorable feat was achieved in 1991 by Suthep Meesawat.

No doubt the whole nation will be hoping that a Thai name goes on the trophy for a fourth time.